Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Oh, Olsson's. What Happened?

I’m going to start off by saying that I like Olsson’s Books. I’ve been shopping there since a little kid, and I’ve always been impressed by the range of things they keep in stock and how informed their staff usually is. They also often hold readings for local authors, which few stores are willing to do unless the writer is a best seller. In general, the only complaint I have about them is that they don’t carry enough lit mags.

That’s why I was so surprised by the disorganized nature of the reading last night at the their Dupont location.

The first problem was that they lacked a microphone. While the store is not particularly large, with all the bookshelves that block the sound, and the droning of their HVAC system and cash registers, hearing was difficult. It was almost impossible to understand the gentleman who introduced the authors, and I was fairly close to the front. The podium they had set up was falling apart, and the 2nd reader wisely chose to push it to the side after seeing the troubles the first had with it.

Probably the worst aspect was that they seemed totally unprepared to sell the books by the authors. They only had a small number in stock, and I heard several people asking about them. On top of not having enough, Olsson’s didn’t have the books in their computer system and were unable to sell them anyway. A very kind and patient woman from the publisher did what she could to sell the books herself. But unfortunately she arrived expecting the store to sell them, and she couldn’t provide change. The store refused to make change unless you bought something else from their stock. I was all ready to purchase books by all three writers, but because of the change situation I had to settle for just one. Very sad, since both the store and the authors lost money due to the store just being unprepared. Olsson’s has a long reading series ahead of them, with a lot of excellent authors. I hope they get their act together soon or authors won’t want to read there anymore.

Despite all the bad mojo created by the store, the reading itself was still excellent. Billups Allen started things off; he was there to promote his novella Unfurnished but chose to read from some works in progress instead. Allen is a slightly heavyset fellow, and looked very disheveled in some brown slacks and an untucked blue dress shirt. If his name is familiar to you, he used to live in D.C. and has some strong connections to our punk scene. His delivery was a little off—monotone and occasionally stilted—but the material was strong enough that it was still very entertaining. One piece was about a man who makes some extra cash by stealing and selling organs on the black market, and it featured a very funny yet gross yet funny slapstick-style liver transplant scene. The 2nd story was about a heavy set, disheveled man (he admitted in a back handed way that it was based on himself) scrounging to find his way in life.

Joe Meno read next. He was the primary reason I went last night, because I’m such a big fan of his last novel Hairstyles of the Damned. I’ve blogged about it, and pushed it on just about everyone I know I thought might like it. His new novel How the Hulagirl Sings is about an ex-con and his best friend trying to make their way through life after their release. Meno was there punked out in jeans and a plain black t-shirt, bared fore-arms showing the bottom edges of tatoos. But it was punk softened a bit around the edges, non-threatening, approachable. He’s a skilled reader who knows his material and knows how to milk it to keep the attention of the audience. The new book seems wonderful, and I look forward to reading it soon.

Marlon James closed up the reading with pieces from John Crow's Devil, a novel set in Jamaica of the 1950’s that focuses on a power struggle between two preachers. He read with a unique rhythm and flow, and his slight Jamaican accent only added to the evocative images within his work. Powerful and wonderfully described, I hope finding a copy won’t be too difficult.

I apologize to all the readers for the unfortunate mishaps at Olsson’s last night. But trust that all readings in D.C. don't go this way, and that everyone who came enjoyed themselves. I heard several saying they would get your books online, so it wasn't a wasted trip. Best to all of you.


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